Radar quantifies migrant concentration and Dawn reorientation at a Great Lakes shoreline

Kevin W. Heist, Tim S. Bowden, Jake Ferguson, Nathan A. Rathbun, Erik C. Olson, Daniel C. Nolfi, Rebecca Horton, Jeffrey C. Gosse, Douglas H. Johnson, Michael T. Wells

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Millions of flying migrants encounter the Great Lakes and other large water bodies on long-distance flights each spring and fall, but quantitative data regarding how they traverse these obstacles are limited. Shorelines are known areas of migrant concentration due to the ecological barrier effect, but details on the magnitude of this concentration and the flight behaviors causing it are largely unknown and difficult to quantify. Mobile avian radar can provide a unique view of how birds and bats move across landscapes by tracking thousands of individual migrants moving through a sample volume that extends multiple kilometers in radius. Results: During the spring of 2014 we used two avian radar units to compare migration patterns at shoreline (1.5km from the shore) and inland (20km from the shore) sites along the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan in the north-central US. We found shoreline activity to be 27% greater than inland activity over all time periods, and 132% greater during the hour surrounding dawn. An analysis of flight directions found that migrants flew to the north and northwest during dusk and night, with many heading out over the lake, but shifted direction towards the east at dawn, as those flying over water reoriented towards land. This shift in direction, which was most intense at the shoreline, may contribute to the higher concentrations of migrants observed at shorelines in this study and others. Conclusions: These findings help confirm and quantify the phenomenon of nocturnal migrant reorientation at dawn, and also stress the functional importance of coastal regions for aerial migrants. The high use of coasts by migrants highlights the importance of conserving shoreline stopover habitat, which often competes with anthropogenic uses. We suggest using a high degree of caution when assessing potential impacts from development in these sensitive environments, and encourage protection of these high-use areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 29 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


  • Aeroecology
  • Coastal ecology
  • Ecological barrier
  • Great Lakes
  • Migration
  • Radar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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